Gifted, Talented . . . and Christian: GTs, Employment and Vocation

Updated!


  • Over qualification and underemployment are real difficulties for many GT adults in the modern workplace.

    Earlier in my career, I found this was an issue with positions in which I was frankly overqualified and underemployed. Our capabilities can put us into situations where we may even find ourselves outperforming everyone around us but being held back by management because we are ‘indispensable.’ I think the key is to realize that some of these positions are transitional, and to seek to keep ourselves from being ‘indispensable’ by cross training our coworkers. If we can find some way to let our managers know that we’re gifted in an appropriate manner, we can also head off some problems if they begin to expect everyone to be able to pick up things like we can and do the variety of things that we can. But I found that jobs with easily mastered, routine and repetitive responsibilities were not really suitable for me for the long term. Rather, these jobs were stepping stones to other positions with greater responsibilities and challenges.

    Generally, most people nowadays seek more out of a job than just a paycheck, and this is even more so for GTs. Unfortunately, many people still have some strange ideas about employment; it does not have to be misery inducing monotony.

  • Vocational choice is a real difficulty also for many GT adults.

    When a person can do many things well, there are a number of vocational choices open. Here is one of the places where a GT can make a good choice that goes sour when it seems that there are many good choices. It is also a place where externally imposed choices can cause years of heartache and frustration, where a GT person takes up a profession or job which others say would be good for them but is in fact against their best interests and contradictory to his or her entire set of abilities and temperament.

  • Chronic mismanagement is a real difficulty also for many GT adults in the modern workplace.

    A nonGT boss may have the belief that anyone can do what we can as fast as we can and with the same quality as we can — the ‘you’re nothing special’ jibe. All attempts to clone me on and off the job have failed miserably — thank goodness.

    A GT person most likely will deliver excellent results and can often do so within a work environment which is wrong for them in the long term.

  • Workplace mobbing can be a devastating experience for many GT adults in the modern workplace.

    Definitions from http://www.mobbing-usa.com:

    "MOBBING IS… EMOTIONAL ABUSE in the workplace. "Ganging up" by co-workers, subordinates or superiors to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation. Malicious, nonsexual, nonracial, general harassment."

    "Other possible words for MOBBING are: Bullying or psychological terror at the workplace, hostile behaviors at work, workplace trauma, incivility, or psychological aggression and emotional violence.

    "MOBBING is an emotional injury that impacts a target’s mental and physical health. MOBBING is a workplace safety and health issue.

    "Mobbing is a furious collective attack made with undisguised glee on an overachiever or someone seen as threatening to good and decent employees. … High value on secrecy, confidentiality, and collegial solidarity among the mobbers." Prof.Kenneth Westhues, conference presentation.

    I can vouch for the fury, the glee and secrecy from the mobbers. There may be potential for violence also.

    Also, mobbing may result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I had already experienced that since the summer of 2002 after the fire in my apartment building, and that took place during the first few months of the mobbing ‘experience.’ I think that the mobbing deepened the and extended the PTSD in my case.

    I believe that in the field of Information Technology in which I’ve been employed, these behaviors can definitely be a survival tactic. During the late 90’s, when there was so much demand for people in IT in general, and system administration and software development in particular, there were many opportunities for those with less than stellar work ethics and work habits. One of the unsung benefits of the tech bubble bursting in 2000 was to shake out many of those with more marginal qualifications.

    Bullying and workplace mobbing was one of the tactics of those who were not working on keeping their skill sets up to date (in some instances five to ten years out of date), or who were seeking personal advancement at someone else’s expense. What happens is the Peter Principle with a time delay; they are in a position where they regress into incompetence by not keeping up with the industry and technology.

    It eventually comes down to someone having to think up the innovations, apply the new technology, do the work and deliver the results. Those people are systematically targeted and driven out by those who attempt to piggyback onto, sabotage or trash the accomplishments of others. It works out to a lose-lose situation for the business if there is nothing done about mobbing while it is happening, since they lose their best workers and eventually need to get rid of the marginal ones who may be instigating the mobbing. In my experience, managers, departments and organizations which have allowed workplace bullying drive away enough genuine talent that they eventually implode.

    It should be noted that there is a strong Biblical parallel to this kind of wicked scheme against a conscientious and productive person in the workplace. Workplace rivals in government service concocted the scheme against Daniel which landed him in the lion’s den (Daniel 6:4-5).


    Managing GTs

    What most GTs need is simply good and fair management. This means management without negative effect on their natural productivity and creativity. If management provides this kind of environment, the GT can both shine individually, and make both the department and the manager look extremely impressive as well.

    • Recognize that a GT Person in Your Department Can Be a Substantial Asset

      A manager can easily be threatened by abilities of many GTs. This may well be entirely unreasonable and more a measure of the insecurity of the manager than the actual intentions, conscious or unconscious, of the GT. Many GTs simply do not want management positions, since those positions would entail dealing with people more than they would like.

    • Seek to Build a Partnership with the GT Person

      GTs will often be quirky people, but they have a surplus of creativity, intensity and understanding and often a very strong work ethic. The aim for a manager should be to build a partnership of mutual cooperation with the GT. An attempt to build a relationship of managerial domination will more often fail than not.

    • Practice Uniform and Fair Expectations for Performance, Promotion and Pay

      One experience that GTs often have in both school and the workplace is a continually rising bar of expectations for them, often much greater than others theoretically at the same grade or job level. Unless there is a special job level especially for GTs (and antidiscrimination laws would not permit this), be fair in applying the corporate expectations for performance, promotion and pay to the GT as to the nonGT. In other words, it is simply discrimination to expect stronger performance from the GT to receive the same promotions and pay that a nonGT with the same responsibilities would receive.

    • Do Not Assign Them to Work with Underachievers to Bring Up the Performance of the Underachievers

      Another experience that GTs often have in both school and the workplace is that they can be paired with the underachievers with the hope that they can bring up the performance of marginal students and employees. This is often quite counterproductive; the marginal employee may simply slack off even more, or even attempt to sabotage the joint effort once because the disparity in abilities simply smarts even more because of having to work with someone whom he or she may deeply resent and envy.

    • Foster an Atmosphere of and Be an Example of Professional Courtesy and Cooperation

      Most companies have values statements which set forth standards of professional conduct. Review them, practice them, and hold others to them. Often these are enough, but unless these standards of professional conduct are followed, they are simply window dressing.

    • Retain Your Own Authority and Responsibility as Manager

      Ultimately, the responsibility for the department is that of the manager. Allow the GT to lead, but do not abdicate authority. Retain and practice your right and responsibility to set the direction and standards of the department.

    • Provide Challenging Assignments Which Call for Creativity and Innovation

      GTs can be bored easily with routine work. This is one area where it may call for extra thought to provide these kinds of assignments, but the payback in retention of the GT will make it definitely worthwhile.

    • Accept and Encourage Lateral Leadership by GTs

      Refer the GT to the book Getting It Done: How to Lead When You’re NOT in Charge(Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp, HarperCollins Publishers, New York 1999), for the concept and methodology of lateral leadership.

    • Recognize that GTs May Move Up and Onward More Rapidly Than Others

      This may entail some ‘going to bat’ for the GT with Human Resources, if there is some track laid out for advancement which is too rigid in terms of timelines. The GT employee may actually be promotable more quickly than someone who takes longer to master the same skills. Thus the GT employee may not follow a timetable that was set for the advancement of nonGTs. The danger here is that the GT may become overqualified for his or her job level or responsibilities, and leave to find something else because the way of advancement is simply too slow.


    Self Employment And Consulting as an Alternative To ‘Normal’ Employment for GTs

    Many times the gifted may find themselves happier and more content if they are not in a traditional employment role, either as manager or employee. A number of times they may wish to strike out on their own.

    • Read at least one consulting guide. Most are clones of each other. Alan Weiss’s guides come highly recommended, as well as Gerald Weinberg’s for IT people. Check out the Amazon reviews so you don’t get a rehash of an earlier publication. But take them as advice only.

    • Map out your talents and your interests and how they relate. Use these for further training or areas of expertise. Areas which intrigue you and on which you can’t find much information are probably areas in which you could make an original contribution.

    • Consult with a CPA as to the tax and financial aspects of self employment and independent consulting. (I am indebted to ‘Mona’, a fellow GT, for this wise observation.)

    • Get some legal guidance on consulting and incorporation if that seems to be a desirable route. For instance, the contract should be strong enough to insure that you get paid within a definite time period for your services.

    • You might want to try some subcontracting for an already existing company for a while before striking out on your own.

    • Marketing is about networking, getting published, giving free workshops, etc. Role play and practice with someone else if you need to get used to selling (and don’t take it seriously enough not to have some laughs in the process).

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